Do topographic changes tell us about variability in aeolian sediment transport and dune mobility? Analysis of monthly to decadal surface changes in a partially vegetated and biocrust covered dunefield

Joshua Caster, Joel B. Sankey, Temuulen Ts Sankey, Alan Kasprak, Matthew A. Bowker, Taylor Joyal

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Vegetation and biological soil crust (biocrust) cover can have a stabilizing effect on dunes by fixing sediment in-place and increasing surface roughness, thus limiting dune mobility, sediment transport, and erosion. These biological effects influence rates of aeolian activity and thus surficial changes, though variability in wind and sediment supply may obscure these topographic effects. In this study, we compare monthly measures of sediment transport and decadal estimates of dune mobility to repeat topographic changes measured as a net volume change in sediment storage (difference in volume between all positive and negative topographic changes) and total volume change (absolute summed volume of all positive and negative changes) for areas of bare, vegetated, and biocrusted sand within a dunefield with limited sediment supply and unimodal winds. We found that monthly net volume changes normalized by area were similar between bare sand and sand with at least 20 % vegetation cover. However, total volume change was significantly greater for bare sand and correlated with monthly sediment flux estimates (R2 = 0.46), though the relationship was significantly improved by including monthly changes in surface roughness (R2 = 0.8). Longer-term decadal trends in topographic change showed larger total volume changes with the greatest decreases in vegetation canopy cover. Additionally, decadal total volume changes strongly correlated with estimates of dune mobility (R2 = 0.99). We also found that increased total volume changes did not necessarily signal increased net volume changes for all land cover types. Specifically, increases in total volume change for bare sand resulted in near equal or lower net volume changes, as both positive (deposition) and negative (erosion) change increased with sediment transport. Conversely, less mobile land covers, such as biocrust covered sand, increased in erosion without significant increases in total volume change, demonstrating that more stable surfaces might exhibit a larger topographic change imbalance than mobile sediment surfaces under the same conditions. This study highlights the importance of considering multiple measures of topographic change for interpreting sediment mobility, transport, and availability. Additionally, we hypothesize a novel framework for remote sensing-based empirical studies aimed at interpreting aeolian landscape evolution resulting from climate change effects on weather as well as biological controls such as vegetation and biocrusts.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number109021
JournalGeomorphology
Volume447
DOIs
StatePublished - Feb 15 2024

Keywords

  • Biogeomorphology
  • Geomorphic Change Detection
  • Lidar
  • Surficial Processes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Earth-Surface Processes

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